The Symbiotic City Network Blogs are a series of posts about our events, and interviews with people from around the world whose ideas and work in some way advance the cause of understanding and creating regenerative symbiotic cities. We look forward to also hearing your comments on these interviews.

November 2016


Nov 20, 2016 8:00 AM
by Craig Applegath  |  1 Comment


Pond Technologies Inc. has developed an algae bioreactor that transforms CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion into valuable biofuels and phytonutrients!

Pond Technologies Inc. CEO, Steve Martin, explains algae bioreactor at St. Mary's Cement Site, St. Mary's, Ontario (photo by Craig Applegath, 2016)



Like most of you, over the past few years I have grown ever more worried and frustrated about our chances of being able to meet the increasingly serious challenges of climate change – both the need to reduce the green-house gases that are causing it, and the need to respond to the impacts of climate change. Probably the sharpest blow to my hope that our species might be able to mount an effective response came when I attended Dr. James Lovelock’s lecture in Toronto in 2009, hosted by Corporate Knights. Lovelock is one of the world’s most respected scientists. He put forward the Gaia Hypothesis, the concept that the biosphere functions as a self-regulating organism. In the question period after the lecture, Lovelock concluded that we had now passed the point of no return, that the biosphere could not recover, and that over the next 50 to 100 years climate change will produce cataclysmic impacts that will cause massive species die-offs, and see our species reduced to a few million people living around the Arctic and Antarctic circles. At the time of his lecture, Lovelock could foresee no means by which we could radically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and therefore the production of CO2 emissions. 


“I can remember very clearly that by the end of our lunch that the hair on the back of my neck was standing up and my heart was racing. I thought, “Oh my God, we now have a real solution to the cause of climate change!”



So you can imagine my surprise and excitement when a year ago I had the pleasure of having lunch with Steve Martin, CEO of Pond Technologies Inc., and heard from him that we can now actually solve our CO2 emissions problem from burning fossil fuel, and make a profit in the process. He told me that Pond’s new bioreactor technology uses green algae to metabolize these pollutants preventing them from being released into the atmosphere. The technology is simple but revolutionary. I can remember very clearly that by the end of our lunch that the hair on the back of my neck was standing up and my heart was racing. I thought, “Oh my God, we now have a real solution to the cause of climate change!” And a solution that actually creates a valuable end product, covers its capital costs, and makes a profit! Steve and his team at Pond Technologies had invented the Holy Grail: they had created a technology that would now allow us to burn fossil fuels to power all types of industries and then capture and profitably process all CO2 emissions as a valuable feedstock! Think about that for a moment. Until now, fossil fuels equaled CO2 emissions, and to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions everyone agreed it would be necessarly to end our use of fossil fuels. But Steve Martin was now showing me that this equation was no longer true. Using Pond’s technology we could now burn fossil fuels and then use the CO2 emissions as feedstocks to produce a highly valuable product: algae. 


Before I describe Pond’s paradigm-smashing technology, let’s quickly review the enormous challenges that we now face in dealing with reducing our fossil fuel generated CO2 emissions around the world:

  1. The world’s population is increasing and will continue to do so for the next 25 years. We will be adding between one and two billion additional people to the planet over that time. This will continue to increase the demand for energy.
  2. In addition to increasing population, industrialization means per capita consumption of energy is increasing – so energy use is rising even faster than population.
  3. As the cost per Kwh of renewable energies such as solar photo-voltaics and wind turbines falls, their use will be more and more competitive with fossil fuels. However, even with a competitive capital cost for the installation of renewable energy technology, the transition to renewable energies will probably take anywhere from 25 to 50 years to happen. As Vaclav Smil explains in his book Energy Transitions [ ] transitions from one type of energy to another type of energy, such as from coal to oil at the turn of the twentieth century, takes decades to happen because of the huge investments in existing energy infrastructure that must be changed. Meanwhile, the net demand for and use of fossil fuels continues to grow.
  4. Although many countries around the world have signed onto the UN’s Paris Climate Treaty, with the exception of a very few countries like Denmark and Germany, most of these countries have no real and implementable plans for how they will actually meet the treaty CO2 reduction targets, and it is very likely they will not be able to reduce their net CO2 emissions in the foreseeable future in any meaningful way.

If you are a realist, it is clear that although zero-carbon renewable energies are rapidly becoming a viable technology, the transition time to move from fossil fuel energy dependence to renewable energy will take much too long for us to meet the real challenge of CO2 emissions here and now. This is why Pond Technologies’ system for removing CO2 from the combustion of fossil fuels is so important. It means that we no longer have to transition away from fossil fuels before we can reduce CO2 emissions. We can keep burning fossil fuels AND eliminate CO2 emissions


So how does this technology work? It is actually an extremely simple idea that is leveraged with some very sophisticated technology. Schematically, Pond’s technology takes flue gases from the combustion of fossil fuels in any industrial process (e.g., coal or natural gas-powered boilers or turbines, cement kilns or steel mills), and then pumps them into a ‘photobioreactor’. This is essentially an aquarium: a large tank of water that is illuminated with high intensity LED light.

High intensity LED Light module used in Pond's Photobioreactor and Sample of algae paste produced by Photobioreactor (courtecty Of Pond Technologies Inc.)


The combination of light, water and CO2 from the flue gas provides the necessary energy and food required for the algae to undergo photosynthesis and grow. And grow they do! Algae are similar to trees or other plants, in that they absorb CO2 via photosynthesis, but they are single celled organisms that grow exponentially under the right conditions. Because algal growth is exponential, there can be as many as six generations of algae produced in a single day! Effectively, Pond’s system creates a never-ending algae bloom, maintaining a maximum growth rate in the algae. Algae-rich water is continuously harvested at the rate at which it grows, removing it as a thick algae paste. This algae paste can then be further processed into alternatives to petrochemical-based products. This system effectively reuses carbon dioxide – greenhouse gas emissions are captured, and then used to make products that then displace more fossil fuels. The possible future of this is a complete carbon reuse, where industrial emissions are transformed into products that in turn further reduce the need to extract more fossil fuels.    

Pond Technolgies Process Diagram (from Pond Technologies Inc.) 


The system can even use the carbon dioxide present in air to grow algae for food. For example, algae species including Chlorella sp., H. Pluvialis and Spirulina can be grown to produce superfoods if grown in a clean, sterile, controlled environment (clearly not in a system attached to industrial pollution!) These algae-based foods are packed with healthy vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Spirulina has been referred to the most nutrient-dense food on the planet. Haemotococcus algae produces astaxanthin, which is the most powerful antioxidant known. Chlorella powder is more nutrient dense than broccoli, kale or spinach, and has been shown to promote weight loss, support your immune system, and helps your body fight cancer. Pond’s technology can produce these superfoods faster, cleaner, and more cost effectively than any other algae system.


Aren’t there some significant drawbacks or deficiencies with this technology? This is the question that everyone asks when they first hear about the incredible potential of this new technology. One important problem that immediately comes to mind is how will this technology assist in reducing the very significant CO2 emissions associated with the transportation sector? How will it eliminate CO2 emissions from planes, trains, and automobiles? The ground transportation sector demand for fossil fuels is currently in transition, and it may not be long before electric vehicles are the norm - simply because they work better and will be less expensive to operate. And because electric vehicles will be charged with electric power that is typically generated by either natural gas or coal they can therefore have their CO2 removed at source with Pond’s technology. However, before the conversion to electric cars and trains happens, because algae cells are up to 50% oil, they can be processed to produce oil that can be used to create bio-diesel for diesel powered vehicles. Algae can also be used to produce both gasoline and jet fuel through a process called  hydrothermal liquefaction that combines algae and water at high temperatures and pressure to produce a form of crude oil. This crude oil can then be refined into gasoline and jet fuel. While burning these fuels will release CO2 again, these algae derived fuels also displace their fossil-fuel based counterparts, and therefore avoid the entire carbon-intensive upstream extraction and processing required to create fossil fuels. On balance, carbon emissions are avoided.

But what about the problem of there still being a finite quantity of fossil fuels to be extracted from the planet, the current glut and low prices of oil and gas notwithstanding? The Peak Oil crisis quickly faded into the background when fracking began releasing millions of barrels of oil and gas onto world markets. This does not change the fact that there is nevertheless a finite supply of economically accessible oil and gas in the world and therefore Pond or no Pond, the world will have to undergo an energy transition to non-fossil fuel based energy sources. But this is not really a problem that affects the effectiveness of Pond Technologies, rather just a reminder of the long-term economics of the fossil fuel industry. However, given the fact that there is still plenty of coal in the ground and still many years of oil and gas left, Pond’s algae technology is currently the only viable fix for fossil fuel CO2 emissions while we are still using them.


“Most positively, this new technology will give governments around the world a cost effective way of having their fossil fuel cake while eating their CO2 reductions as well.”



The questions that many of you may now be asking yourself are: how quickly can we expect to see this technology rolled out and adopted? What might get in the way of it being realized? And will it have any specific opposition? All good questions!  The good news is that this technology should not meet any real opposition from the big CO2 emitters – the fossil fuel, cement and steel industries who are actually now starting to invest in Pond’s technology. The technology is very cost effective, produces a valuable product, and is a good news story all around for these industries. It will still face the hurdles that any new technology faces, that of initial understanding and acceptance, and of course, finding investors to help grow the opportunity. In fact the only real opposition that this amazingly smart and effective technology may face is from those in the environmental community who now see fossil fuels, and any company that produces, uses, or is associated with fossil fuels, as inherently bad. Because Pond’s technology will now allow us to burn fossil fuels without emitting CO2, not to mention without NOx and SOx, it means that the whole fossil fuel versus renewable fuel debate will become moot, but the point is reducing the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere, not whether or not the fossil fuel industry is good or bad. 

Image of World Leaders in Paris Heads of delegations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. (Source: Wikipediea


Most positively, this new technology will give governments around the world a cost effective way of having their fossil fuel cake while eating their CO2 reductions as well. In Canada, where I live, we now have a Prime Minister who is committed to reducing greenhouse gases to meet our Country’s Paris Climate Treaty commitments. He is also committed, however, to trying to boost Canada’s flagging resource economy that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Clearly these two goals would be very difficult to reconcile without Pond’s CO2 emissions solution. But with this technology, Canada, like every other country in the world, can now use fossil fuels and significantly reduce their CO2 emissions!

The importance of Pond’s new technology is starting to be recognized around the world. Recently, Pond Technologies as the lead, Markham District Energy, the National Research Council of Canada, and the City of Markham teamed up to enter the Carbon X-Prize competition, along with 47 other teams from 7 different countries. Just less than a month ago it was announced that Pond Technologies had been selected as one of the 27 semi-finalists for the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon X-Prize. The X-Prize Foundation is an innovation engine, a facilitator of exponential change for the benefit of humanity, and runs global competitions to develop cutting edge technologies.


It is clear that even though we are already in a world seriously challenged by climate change from the CO2 emissions already in the atmosphere (we are now at over 400ppm CO2!), with Pond’s new technology we now at least have a cost effective means to radically reduce our CO2 emissions going forward, and in doing so hopefully allow our biosphere to recover and possibly metabolize the excess CO2 currently in the atmosphere. So with the advent of Pond’s algae-based solution to CO2 emissions, there is a very bright light at the end of the climate change tunnel!

If you would like further information on Pond Technologies Inc. and their algae bioreactor system you can contact Peter Howard at, or check out their website at


About the Author:  Craig Applegath is an architect, urban designer, and a pioneer in the planning and design of regenerative buildings, urban resilience, and symbiotic cities. Craig is the moderator of and a principal and founding principal of the DIALOG Toronto studio. He looks forward to hearing your thoughts about this blog.

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January 2014

Symbiotic Transformation

Jan 19, 2014 9:00 PM
by Craig Applegath  |  Add Comment

How will we transform our cities to shift us from our current parasitically harmful relationship with our natural environment to a regenerative, symbiotic relationship?

This was one of the first questions that we asked after developing the definition of a Regenerative Symbiotic City. In answering this question, we agreed that such transformations would need to be ones that underpinned the basic needs of human habitation - shelter, food, energy, access to resources, mobility, and ecosystems services - while at the same time positively contributing to the health and regeneration of local and regional ecosystems. We also agreed that these transformations would need to be grounded in cold hard reality, can only be implemented if existing political and economic resources were effectively marshaled, and would need to be both "economically rational” and be implementable within a time frame that would allow them to begin to have real impact within the next few decades.

Most importantly, we think that these transformations must be rational and practical extensions of existing science and technologies, and not reliant on yet-to-be-invented solutions. For example, shifting from gasoline powered to electric powered cars would be entirely feasible within our current transportation systems; or shifting from fossile fuel energy to renewable energies and thorium nuclear energy is now technically and economically feasible, even though these technologies face huge implementation hurdles.

What are these transformations?

In the Transformations section of the website we have focused on what we are 10 of the most important transformations required to facilitate the transformation of our cites from parasitic to symbiotic cities. They are:

1.  Transforming from a carbon intensive economy to a net-zero carbon energy economy;

2.  Developing ecosystem services infrastructure to support the generation of ecosystem services;

3.  Planning for high-density, complete communities to reduce our per capita ecological footprints;

4.  Transforming building fabric be regenerative and support and produce ecosystem services; 

5.  Transforming the food production to create a sustainable local urban food infrastrucure;

6.  Infinite material and resource recycling to significantly reduce our resource extraction burden on surrounding ecosystems;

7.  Transforming from fossil fuel powered transportation to zero-carbon mobility

8.  Transforming suburban landscapes from ecological deserts to biodiverse oases.

    ...and 2 enabling transformations that are required to facilitate the above 8 transformations:

9.  Transforming from an economic system that "externalizes" natural capital and ecosystems services to a "whole system economy" that internalizes them; and 

10.  Substantially increasing the effectiveness of the democratic representation and decision making to facilitate regenerative symbiotic city policy making and implementation. 


To find out more about these transformations, see the transformations section of this website

Craig Applegath


Energy, Ecosystem Services, High-Density, Urban Food, Building Design, Non-toxic, Material Recycling, Water Recycling, Resilience, Economic Policy   Add Comment

Key Assumptions

Jan 12, 2014 9:00 AM
by Craig Applegath  |  Add Comment

When I am giving public presentations about Symbiotic Cities I am often asked about the assumptions we have made in developing the ideas that are set out in this website. This is a very important question, because, clearly, the assumptions we have made will determine both the reasonableness and the potential for implementation of the ideas. We have clearly set out these assumptions in the introduction to the Transitions section of the site, but they bear repeating again in response to our readers queries. There are four key assumptions as follows: 

1.  History is not pre-determined:  Our civiliztion is not necessarily locked into doing things the way we are doing them now, nor into how we have done things in the past. If we were, then there would indeed be no hope and no viable future! We do not believe in a pre-determined, Hegelian path for history, and do not think that societies and civiliztions move in pre-determined cycles, rising and then falling in some regular fashion. Instead, we think that, as Niall Ferguson notes in his book Civiliztion - The West and the Rest, civilizations "...operate somewhere between oder and disorder - on the 'edge of chaos' in the phrase of computer scientist Chritopher Langton. Such systems can appear to operate quite stably for some time, apparrently in equilibrium, in reality constantly adapting. But there comes a moment when they 'go critical'. A slight perturbation can set off a 'phase transition' from a benign equilibrium to a crisis..."[page 299-230] It is therefore our job as a species to find a more successful course for our future, and the means of implementing it.

2.  Our problems are not caused by "others":  We do not believe that our poblems are caused by "others" (other races, other cultures, other nations, other political parties). Although it is often easy to blame others for our problems, in reality, we think that the most difficult problems we face are the result of our deep-seated human nature that manifests itself in both positive and negative ways. Moreover, we think that the above described transformations can only be successful if we find ways to implement them that take into account the realities of our human nature. The implementation of these transformations, then, must appear "reasonable" from a great many perspectives - which will indeed be one of the great challenges facing us in implementing these transformations.

3.  The symbiotic transformations must be rational and based on facts and sound science:  We think that, even though the transformations must be understood as relevant in many cultural contexts, they must nevertheless be entirely rational, logical and based on sound science. We are entering an era where our species' future success will very much depend on our ability to use our now vast understanding of the natural and physical world in creative and effective ways, but also an era that will, by the very nature of some of the future shocks and stresses we face, make it much more difficult to escape the counter-productive behaviours associated with the irrational side of human nature that is much amplified during times of stress. 

4.  The symbiotic transformations must be individually effective AND mutually supportive and reinforcing:  We think that in order to be implemented, these transformations must be effective in and of themselves, and not require other tranformations to be implemented as precursors. It should be noted here, however, the implementation of multiple transformations will have synergies and positive feedbacks that individual transformatiosn may not have on their own. 

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December 2013

Exploring the Problem of Implementing Significant Change

Dec 30, 2013 9:19 PM
by Craig Applegath  |  Add Comment

We are very interested in exploring the question of how to implement significant and complex social and economic change -- for example the kind of significant change that will be required to address global warming -- and would like to hear your thoughts on this question. What is your response to this question? Who are the key writers that are exploring this at the moment? What past precedents are worth examining?

As we have been fleshing out the Transition sections of this website, one of the perennial questions we have been faced with is: “Even if we can develop practical and implementable solutions to significant problems like climate change, and various forms of environmental degradation, all of our economic and social systems are solidly locked into their current modes by a economic and social inertia that strongly resists these solutions. So how do we overcome this inertia in a democratic society?” If you have any thoughts and suggestions, we would greatly appreciate hearing your thoughts on this.

Please make your suggestions as comments to this blog, or send us a contact message.



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Dale Prest on the Importance of Forests as Carbon Sinks

Dec 8, 2013 2:00 PM
by Craig Applegath  |  Add Comment

Dale researches the effect that forest harvesting can have upon soil nutrients like carbon and nitrogen with the goal of developing forestry practices that can continue to provide ecosystem services that sustain ecological communities, contribute to climate change mitigation and support rural economies throughout the county. The red spruce tree (pictured above) that Dale harvested was turned into an 8”x10” timber post that forms one corner of his home in Mooseland, NS. Dale is the sixth generation to work on his family owned woodlots in NS: the first private lands in the province to be certified to the stringent environmental standard of the Forest Stewardship Council®.

By Craig Applegath


When did you first become interested in the possibility of deploying sustainably managed forests as large scale carbon sinks? 

I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t interested in forest ecology and ecosystem-based forest management. I’ve also always been aware that those managing their forests to provide habitat for wildlife, recreational and spiritual values that society appreciates were at an economic disadvantage because they were forced to compete against landowners and managers that only care about maximizing their quarterly returns. When the significance of increasing anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations really started to hit home, it seemed that creating an economic incentive for landowners and managers to manage their forests for carbon storage was a win-win for all: for the forests, responsible landowners and for a world trying to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Wasn’t former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien roundly criticized for suggesting something similar at the Kyoto Climate Talks in 1997? What has changed in thinking since then?

20 years is what has changed. We thought we had more time to deal with this problem than we did. Now we realize that we need short, medium and long term solutions, all of which need to be rolled out simultaneously. Managing forests for carbon storage is something we can start right away: it requires no technological advances, no new CO2 pipelines, no CCS plants. We’re talking about solar powered carbon capture and storage that we can start doing today.

And you? Do you think sustainably managed forests can be effectively leveraged to help realize the goal of significantly reducing atmospheric carbon concentrations? 

Unequivocally, Yes. Modeling suggests that managing forest land for carbon storage is capable of significantly reducing temperatures over the coming century. It’s a key part of the solution as a short to medium term greenhouse gas mitigation strategy that will help us buy time while we bring on the structural changes that will completely eliminate dangerous emissions of all sorts. At the same time we improve our forest ecosystems, the resiliency of forest dependent rural communities, freshwater habitats, and allow civilization to reconnect with the awe of the natural wealth that our forests hold.

Most people in the forestry industry believe that their model of clearcutting and replanting is the best way to sequester and store carbon in forests. Your research indicates just the opposite, and you have found that clear-cutting actually releases ground-stored carbon into the atmosphere. Can you tell us briefly in layman’s language what you have found? 

The majority of carbon in a forest is stored below ground in the soil as organic matter. Work out of Dr. Lisa Kellman’s lab (of which I’m a part) at St. Francis Xavier University is showing that clearcutting seems to mobilize this massive carbon sink, causing the emission of potentially tens of thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide on each square kilometer of forest land clearcut. Many in the forestry industry have suggested that they sequester and store carbon in fast growing plantations. However none of them have accounted for what happens below ground in the soil, which contains more than two times as much carbon as exists in all of the live trees combined. My research suggests that, for up to 35 years following clearcutting, forest soils are a source of carbon dioxide, cancelling out any sequestration benefit from a regrowing forest.

Counter-intuitively this represents a huge opportunity: in Canada we have clearcut vast tracks of forest multiple times, reducing the carbon stored in these soils. With careful management we can put that carbon back, turning these carbon depleted soils into massive carbon sinks. This could have an enormously positive impact on global efforts to contain and reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

Symbiotic Cities would arguably need to rely heavily on both rural and urban forests to maintain a supply of environmental services. Do you see any possibilities for existing suburbs to begin to substantially increase their forest cover, for example, by replacing turf-grass with indigenous forest trees and shrubs? Will it be possible to transform the eco-biology of the suburbs without evicting all of its inhabitants?

There are lots of opportunities for sub-urban environments to augment and improve the health of ecosystems within their communities. Making use of local species of grasses, shrubs and trees not only stores more carbon than do traditionally used species, but also improves wildlife habitat for local insects, birds and small mammals, improves water services like storage and filtration, and gives us the opportunity to help species migrate as the climate changes. What’s needed is a shift in aesthetic preference from homogenous, simple systems dominated by a few introduced species to an appreciation for local, diverse habitats that are based on healthy ecosystems.

I have a friend that grew up in a suburb in southern California. The city planted avocados in street mediums and along sidewalks. No one was for want of fresh avocados, even those with little disposable income. I think of this often when speaking of landscaping in suburbs.

Can urban forests play a role in carbon sequestration? 

Absolutely. Urban forests have a unique potential to serve immense value as recreational, educational and spiritual refuges in the everyday lives of millions. This public exposure ought to be leveraged to educate urban populations of the importance of forest ecosystems and on the value of forests as carbon sinks. Urban forests may not store as much carbon directly as their rural counterparts, but can be used to put forest carbon storage on the radar of the 80% of the population of Canada that lives in cities, thereby moving carbon storage up on the list of importance for forest owners and managers.

With all the bad environmental news you read, do you have any good news for us?

Despite the antediluvian actions of the Federal Government, individuals and corporations across the country are voluntarily taking responsibility for their own greenhouse gas emissions. CIBC World Markets expects China to put a national price on carbon by 2016. In my home province of Nova Scotia, we’ve reduced our use of coal by 38% in recent years primarily by bringing online wind energy. Technological advancements are getting closer and closer to eliminating altogether the need for fossil fuels. Change is not linear, and I think that we’re beginning to see that it’s actually exponential.

Thanks Dale!

More About Dale Prest:

Dale’s passion is understanding the relationship between forest management and the health of society. Dale is currently researching the long-term impacts of clearcut harvesting on forest soil carbon storage in the Acadian Forest and works with Community Forests International exploring the value of ecosystem services that sustainably managed forests return to society. We think Dale’s work is key to developing a better understanding of both how to sequester carbon in sustainably managed forests, as well as how to better understand sustainable forest management in the context of the ecosystem services production. Dale currently lives in Mooseland, NS, near where he grew up logging family owned sustainable woodlots.


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August 2013

Symbiotic Cities Workshop Series: Toronto

Aug 18, 2013 3:24 PM
by Josh Taylor  |  Add Comment



On June 15 we brought together 25 young leaders with backgrounds in policy, planning, architecture and engineering. We came together at the DIALOG studio in Toronto to dive into the 6 key transformations we believe are required for a regenerative, symbiotic city.

This group included members of the initial team which had helped build, and craft the original symbiotic cities definition over a year ago. After a brief introduction, the workshop split into groups to look at specific transformations including food, building design and high-density city planning. Despite a fire alarm and a partial evacuation from the building, we were able to begin exploring the transformations, and identifying the critical questions we need to address. These questions included:

  • How can we make planning decisions at the level of the bio-region, in terms of carrying capacity and natural boundaries such as watersheds?
  • If a regenerative building were a person, what would its rituals be? How can we imagine the regenerative building as a combination of biological and mechanical processes?

A key action item from the workshop is the creation of Symbiotic City Design Jams and we will be hosting design jams in the Fall on regenerative building and community design.  Thank you to all those who attended and please contact us if you would like to be involved in future events!

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July 2013

Symbiotic Cities Workshop Series: Vancouver

Jul 3, 2013 12:54 PM
by Josh Taylor  |  Add Comment


“How can the Symbiotic Cities Network be most relevant to us as professionals?”

This is the question we asked ourselves when we convened a group of 15 planners, architects, engineers and designers at the Vancouver DIALOG studio on June 8. The group met to explore how the network can be organized most effectively, and included members of the public sector, the private sector, non-profits, and academia.

Over the course of an afternoon, we explored the following key questions:

  • What are the key functional attributes of the network?
  •  How can the network be developed to connect and leverage the skills of its members to catalyze change?

Our group worked through a series of activities including post-ups, breakouts, and discussions which came to focus on several key areas:

  • Content- having straight-forward, curated content which is relevant to our audience.
  • Tools to Build the Network- For example, Visual powerpoint slides of key points which can be downloaded and inserted into a presentation by anyone
  • A Platform to Engage- Ideas included webinars, and using the network to host local events and bring in speakers.

Over the next few weeks we will be pulling these ideas together and working to build out the website and organize future events. Thank you to everyone for attending- and stay tuned for updates!

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April 2013

Justin Ritchie on The "New" Economy

Apr 1, 2013 12:10 PM
by Craig Applegath  |  Add Comment

If we are to shift from a parasitic to a symbiotic city paradigm, then we will have to find economic strategies that recognize the real value of ecosystem services, as well as the econoimc costs of carbon. We have therefore invited Justin Ritchie, a founder and blogger at the Extraenviromentalist Blog to talk with us about the “new economy” and his involvement in the upcoming New Economy Summit to be held at UBC this April.

By Josh Taylor


What would you say are 3 main things that make ‘new’ economy different from the old economy?

Three things that will make the structures and institutions of our new economy different from the old will be values of cooperation, democratization and trust.

Many of our current money, banking, corporate, economic and business systems are rooted in ideas about human nature that arose during the late 19th century. As our understanding of science, specifically in the realms of sociology and ecology has evolved during the second half of the 20th century, our institutions have not adapted to this new understanding. Now that we know the mechanism of evolution requires radical cooperation rather than just the survival of the fittest, we can reflect this in new ways of organizing our economy. The institutions of our economy are acting as the operating system for the planet and our species as they provide a set of choices that filter our behaviours. We can be a benevolent species as well as an aggressive and competitive one and what we have now in the global economy emphasizes the competition in exaggerated ways.

Can you tell us about some of the speakers you are bringing in for this conference and what they will they be talking about?

All of our speakers are listed at along with our schedule. I counted several dozen books among the many authors speaking at our conference. We’ll be discussing the advantages of co-operative enterprise with John Restakis of the BC Co-Operative Association and Michael Lewis of the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal. Bill Rees and Ellie Perkins will be talking about how ideas of ecological economics can begin to drive decisions and policy options in our community. We’ll be talking about social innovation and impact financing with Michelle Ü of Cutting Edge Capital and James Tansey of the UBC Sauder Institute for Social Innovation and Sustainability. Darren Fleet, the senior editor of Adbusters, will be talking about their new alternative economics textbook Meme Wars. We’ll be talking about the issue of divestment from fossil fuels for university endowments and public funds with Christie Stephenson from Northwest Ethical Investing and Benjamin Richardson of UBC Law. Former Harvard Business School professor David Korten will talk about his ideas on how the university can organize to embrace these ideas of a new economy. Boston University professor Juliet Schor will discuss how work time reductions and reduce our ecological footprints and give us more time for the people and things we love. Historian and cultural critic Morris Berman will be looking at Japan’s history of sustainability, craft economies and ecological awareness through the lens of steady-state economics. Post-Growth Institute co-founder Donnie Maclurcan will talk about the advantages of not-for-profit businesses and how they can enable an economy that’s no longer dependent on growth.

Where is the new economy happening now? How has it arisen to fill a gap left by the old economy?

There are numerous ways we’re interacting with the new economy here in North America but we just don’t know it. Primarily because all of these institutions aren’t networked into a coherent framework and that they don’t make the headlines and evening news reports like Fortune 500 companies do.

Here’s a link to a great essay from a few years ago on what the New Economy Movement really means:

There are tons of organizations and businesses that are focusing on far more than just the financial bottom line. You may even participate in a few of them.

As the international financial system continues to get patched together with wealth transfers from sovereign balance sheets and the global economy shows no cohesive signs of returning to the rapid growth of pre-2008, these organizations are building the framework for an economy that is resilient while addressing our sustainability challenges head-on.

What can someone expect to get from attending this conference and where can they find more information?

People attending The New Economy Summit at UBC will not only have a chance to learn about the numerous elements of the new economy movement but will also be able to meet the people who are working to make this transition happen. Anyone who is interested in helping to co-create an ecologically and socially sustainable economy should be there.

What part of the conference are you most excited about?

I’m glad that we’re able to offer all of this at no cost to the first 150 people who sign up and that we’re going to have spaces for open conversations and “dot-mocracy” voting for open session topics. We have a lot of perspectives that won’t be incorporated in our sessions and that’s why we’ve opened time during each day of the conference for anyone to sign up and have their presentations gain an audience. Most of all, I’m excited about addressing the systemic challenges of higher education in the framework of the new economy movement. At the end of the two day summit we want everyone to come away with a feeling at something is just starting.

About Justin Ritchie:  Justin Ritchie is completing his PhD in Resource Management and Environmental Systems at UBC in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. He is also the Sustainability Coordinator for the Alma Mater Student Society at UBC and is organizing a conference on new economic thinking to take place in April. He also produces the weekly syndicated radio show and podcast The Extraenvironmentalist which is hosted at

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March 2013

Jeff Schnurr on Sustainably Managed Forests as a Key Building Block of Symbiiotic Cities

Mar 19, 2013 6:16 PM
by Craig Applegath  |  1 Comment

Forests are responsible for metabolizing 78% of the world’s carbon dioxide annually. Not only do forests provide a mechanism for sequestering carbon, but they do so in a way that can also provide a vital and sustainable supply of timber to support many facets of a ecologically balanced economy. In this interview we spoke with Jeff Schnurr, the Executive Director of Community Forests International about the potential role of sustainable forestry in the development of symbiotic cities.

By Craig Applegath

You split your time between your work in Canada and Africa. This provides you with an unusual perspective from which to view our contemporary world. What are some of the things that stand out for you with respect to the differences between how North Americans and Africans understand their relationship with the environment?

When I’m in Canada, I live and work in New Brunswick where forestry and rural communities are practically inseparable. Although there are a few pockets of truly sustainable forestry, the commonly held consensus in Canada is that forests and the natural environment either need to be conserved, or should be maximized for economic growth. This line of thinking has resulted in a divide between economic and environmental development. When I arrived in East Africa I saw a completely different worldview. Although rural communities still depended on the natural environment for their livelihoods, many villages have realized that conservation and income generation must go hand in hand. To do one without the other would be detrimental.

You and Community Forests International are considered pioneers in the development of carbon-offset credits based on managing forests sustainably in concert with sustainable community development. Where are you and your team heading with both your carbon research and its practical application over the next few years?

We’ve been exploring carbon-offsetting as a way to bridge Canada’s economic and environmental divide. We believe that well designed carbon-offsetting projects that involve rural communities and sustainable forest management and harvest can provide for an over-populated planet while fighting climate change. There are ways that forest products can be harvested while improving and restoring forests in the process and we believe that carbon offsetting can held make these efforts economically feasible. Over the next few years we’ll continue to explore how responsible organizations and individuals, rural communities and natural systems can work together to fight climate change.

Some people are very uncomfortable with the whole concept of carbon offsets. Critics see offsets as being akin to the indulgences for sins that the Catholic Church sold during the Middle Ages. How do you respond to this kind of criticism?

There is a lot of criticism around carbon offsetting and some of this criticism is not unfounded, but the bottom line is that we are emitting way too many greenhouse gasses and individuals and organizations on both sides of the equation genuinely want to do something about it. I think that early green-washers never got the mileage they wanted out of offsets, and now we can give climate stewardship and offsetting some real consideration. As for indulgences for sins? The only sin would be a failure to act while we still have a chance to pilot the mechanisms that may help us find viable solutions.

Levels of CO2e in the atmosphere are now up past 396ppm. Most serious and respected climate scientists believe we are already starting to experience the impacts of climate change. Where does sustainable forest management fit into this picture?

Forests regulate our climate and provide ecosystem services such as water filtration and nutrient cycling. As humans have yet to find a way to provide these life-essential ecosystem services without forests it’s pretty clear that we need to work to ensure that forests remain healthy and productive. The way we interact with forests will either contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, or reduce them. Forest diversity and health will be essential for human adaptation as the climate changes around us.

Symbiotic Cities of the future will rely heavily on both rural and urban forests to maintain a supply of environmental services. Do you see any possibilities for applying the lessons you and your team have learned to the cities and suburbs?

With a population of almost 7 billion people we need to admit that we are truly a part of the natural world, and this goes for rural and urban communities alike. In my opinion it all comes back to accountability and stewardship. Urban communities and suburbs must be aware of their environmental impacts and we all need to work together to mitigate the negative consequences of our communities’ actions. Imagine a world where all urban and suburban communities monitor their greenhouse gas emissions and then form partnerships with neighboring rural communities in order to store and sequester the carbon they emit? These types of rural/urban partnerships could play an important role in our efforts against climate change.

In your work in both Canada and Tanzania over the years, you have seen the tight connections between natural ecosystems and the human communities that inhabit them. What important lessons have you drawn that could inform our discussion of the planning and design of symbiotic cities?

The most important thing that we’ve learned is the interconnectivity between people and the natural world. There is no separation and we need to stop pretending that humanity exists outside of the natural world we depend on. In Tanzania it’s easy to see. If the rainy season is shorter than usual and the rivers are dry everyone knows it and everyone is talking about it. In Canada, we still don’t see the direct impacts of climate change because we isolate ourselves from natural systems. Symbiotic cities could both foster and highlight our relationships with the natural world and bring some of humanity’s most pressing issues to the forefront. We don’t need to experience a complete environmental collapse to notice climactic changes, so how do we design and plan symbiotic cities to highlight the roles that natural systems play in our daily lives?

You and your CFI team work very closely with communities to help them understand the close relationship between environmental health and economic community health. So given this experience, how do we get people to realize that life-critical ecological services such as water purification, pollination, oxygen production, and natural carbon sequestration cannot simply be treated as externalities, but instead have value, and must be valued?

To date, both economic models and conservation efforts have serious flaws and fail to recognize that both systems are working towards general well being. In order to recognize the similar goals of both systems we need to break down barriers and build new partnerships. Business can be financial profitable and good for the environment. Conservation can maintain it’s traditional values while admitting that people need to make a living on the landscape. We believe that a whole new wave of partnerships are beginning to emerge and are proud to be a part of it.

Thanks Jeff!

About Jeff

Jeff Schnurr first made his mark while working as a Canadian tree-planter, where he singlehandedly planted over half a million trees. Between planting seasons, he traveled to over 35 countries before landing in Tanzania, where he worked with local villagers to spur a tree planting movement that eventually grew into Community Forests International. With the dream of making conservation a rural livelihood, Jeff has spread the techniques of forest restoration around the globe. In 2010, Jeff Schnurr was named one of Canada’s Top 10 volunteers by the CBC and Manulife. More recently, Jeff and Community Forests International teamed up with DIALOG to develop a carbon offsetting strategy based on the sustainable management of forests in Canada.

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